The Ruin Value of Empires, Part 1: On Early-Culture Man

“The Greeks! The Romans! Instinctive nobility, taste, methodical inquiry, genius for organization and administration, faith in and the will to secure the future of man, a great yes to everything entering into the imperium Romanum and palpable to all the senses, a grand style that was beyond mere art, but had become reality, truth, life….”

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Antichrist

“I was wavering between hope and despair, and was torturing myself with the misfortunes of other people. But when the bright light of all the world was put out, or, rather, when the Roman Empire was decapitated, and, to speak more correctly, the whole world perished in one city… Who would believe that Rome, built up by the conquest of the whole world, had collapsed, that the mother of nations had also become their tomb?”

-St. Jerome, Commentary on Ezekiel

On Early-Culture Man

Remnants of ancient Greece and Rome are scattered through Europe and the Middle East. Vast temples where once strange priests bowed down to the pantheon and cried out are now overgrown and desolate. Aqueducts that carried water to cities crumble and fall into vast ravines and valleys. Statues of heroes are now faceless and forgotten. This is a dreary picture. Man’s work is fated to fade and fall away. Yet we cannot help but feel enraptured and in complete awe of these terrible marvels. Man’s work in the world is destroyed but it is beautiful. In the conflict between man and nature, man makes himself known despite his death, and brings from within the deepest parts of the soul an unmatched feeling of pessimism and optimism, producing an aesthetic experience.

“We are still here,” the voices of the past whisper through crumbling marble, “enduring…”

            The architect Albert Speer devised a term for this phenomena; Ruin Value. He writes in Inside the Third Reich, “Ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture,” he continues, “What remained of the emperors of Rome? What would still bear witness to them today, if their buildings had not survived?”[1] For Speer, a building had to be a ‘bridge of tradition’, communicating the fortitude and Will of a people through space and time–the whisper of the past. The value of ruin is a kind of a fatal heroism; man’s last laugh. While Ruin Value has fallen out of vogue for its association with the NSDAP, Speer profoundly touched on the aesthetic relationship between man and ruin. We cannot help but feel impressed while in the presence of ruins. A structure even as simple as an abandoned gun factory, a desolate church, or a shack arouses within man a conflicting set of emotions, amounting to an experience like no other. It is undeniable that man is fascinated with himself before time[2].

            Ruin Value can also have a more general use. The grand style of the Doric temple and the Pantheon was a manifestation of a grand style. As Speer notes previously, the heroic architectural style was the result of a proclamation of triumph. “I am King of Kings, look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!” The grand style was a manifestation of power, prior to all other styles there is the grand style; empire. A reality, a truth, a life… the imperium makes itself known throughout space and time. Even in death Caesar crosses the Rubicon. We should not confuse empire with laws or bureaucracy. What I mean by empire is a realm of activity, that is to say, a kind of organism. It is when we take ruin to be vestiges of a previous life that one can fully understand the connection between man, man’s work, and nature. A Doric Temple is impressive on its own, but when we learn its context, the ruin becomes even more impressive. Rather than a simple testament to man’s spirit, it becomes a testament to a people’s history. A manifestation of their pride. What we gawk at is no longer an ideal space, but an actual and real emanation of a people’s vital and creative energies before our time. Around the world we are surrounded by the corpses of dead empires, the remains of a juristic order, architecture, literature, paintings, and other faculties of energetic release.

The contradictions of ruin have been the subject of much of man’s work. We cannot help but be attracted to empire–it is the epitome of tragedy; a people extinguished despite their great works. Civilization has its start in the aesthetic contemplation of empire. From within the ribcage of fallen titans, new life begins. For early-culture man, dead empires reminded him of his smallness, of the lack of power within him. He thus deified previous races. How could such a race of men exist? How could their works still stand in the midst of nature? They must have been gods.

The divine race of Heroes, also called

Demigods, the race before the present one[3]

Dante, in de Monarchia, wrote that the Romans were a race given providential masterhood over the world[4]. The Aztecs upon discovering the ruins of a great city dubbed it, ‘Birthplace of the Gods’, Teotihuacán. In Daniel 2:32-45, Nebuchadnezzar is said to be the ‘head of gold’. But if they were so great, then how come their works are in ruin? Early culture-man is pessimistic. He sees the ruins around him, the remnants of a great race, and looks within himself and sees nothing but shallowness. The embodiment of a fall. Plato wrote that the Atlanteans, a race close to the gods, once given into sin, were sunk beneath the ocean for their impiety. The lesson of ruin becomes a lesson of redemption.

I wish I had nothing to do with this fifth generation

Wish I had died before or been born after[5]

Hesiod, surrounded by Mycenean ruin, felt himself infinitely small, as a speck within a vast plane. Hesiod’s statement is enigmatic of the archetype of the early-culture man. In the Laws of Manu, the first age of man, the Krta, is one where “…people are freed from sickness,” and that they have, “a life span of 400 years.” The age when the Law was written, the Kali, represents the furthest fall from the divine. In this age, man is more in need of law, for the original divine law was fractured, “The Law disappears one foot at a time.”[6]

            The weight of tragedy bears on men more during the early culture period. Early-culture man takes to creation to go beyond his fall. The Holy Roman Emperor was crowned Romanorum Imperator Augustus, in imitation of the old Roman emperors, however, he was made holy, “…the most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman Empire.” The coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor resembled a ritual of purification. After being anointed with oil, the Emperor was then handed a sword and told,

“Receive this sword by the hands of bishops, who, though unworthy, are consecrated to be in the place and authority of the holy Apostles, deliver it to you, with our blessing, to serve for the defense of the holy Church, divinely ordained, and remember of whom the Psalmist prophesied, saying, ‘Gird the sword upon your thigh, O most Powerful One, that with it you may exercise equity.'”

The Emperor is made an arm of the church, being the temporal representation of God’s justice, he goes beyond being a mere ruler and is initiated into a reality, a redemptive truth, a new life. Rather than being a pure imitation of the former Roman Empire, the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor represents the Will to be redeemed.

            For the Greeks the destruction of Myceneans served as a point of neurotic paranoia; everyday he reminded himself of his sin, his tragedy, and so the institutions of the Greek sought to regulate the sinful impulse within themselves by ordering it toward the contest. Through the contest, the Greek man strengthened, not only himself, but his State. Thus, the game took on an aspect of ‘holiness’ which was personified in the goddess Nike–the winged victor over meaningless struggle. Without the games, the deep-seated fear within the Greek was that “He becomes bad and cruel, thirsting for revenge, and godless; in short, he becomes “pre-Homeric”—and then it needs only a panic in order to bring about his fall and to crush him.” [7]

            Early-culture man felt the contradiction of the higher man and the fallen man embodied in the ruin. These two men are a reflection of his own soul, his fallen nature and also his potential to be more. In his moment of creation, an affirmation rings out from the early-culture man’s heart–not just does he affirm his higher self, he also affirms his lower self, thereby he affirms his whole self. Pressing at the back of his mind is the thought, “I am not good enough, I must become more.” He therefore creates his own realm of action and purification, that is to say empire. All empires have a center, a symbol, which determines its style. In Europe the Gothic church was its universal symbol. The high ceilings, far beyond the subject, and spiraling columns, a veritable cry for the Heavens, is seen even in the theology of Aquinas–the heavenly hierarchy, layers of Being revolving up and down to the Lord; theology communicated in Gothic architecture. The first act of the early-culture man is the creation of the style emanating from a universal symbol of tragedy. The smallness and instinct for ruin of early-culture man led to the development of his own grand style to triumph over his sin, his fallen-self (for more on the development of different styles, I’d recommend Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West, specifically the chapter The Meaning of Numbers).

            I’ve said in a previous writing, “Forgetfulness is an active faculty in man.” In order to create, one must destroy. Destruction itself is a kind of active forgetting. In any empire’s course there will come a point when a people forget themselves completely. The impasse comes when a people have forgotten so much that they have no choice but to forget the self; a denial of man as both higher and fallen. When the strength of a people has grown to a certain extent, they use that strength to assert they are the pinnacle of all history. They no longer feel small with infinite room to grow; rather, this people believe that they are all that is and shall be. When there is no more room to grow, what else can a people become? It is from this we see a decline; late-culture man.


[1] Inside the Third Reich, [Pg. 65-66], Albert Speer

[2] Today, games like Scorn play on our intrigue for ruin. Walking through the fleshy ruins of its Alien-like passages and rooms, one is reminded of the vastness of the human soul set up against the infinite plane of the universe…

[3] Theogony, Hesiod

[4] “On this question I therefore affirm that it was by right, and not by usurping, that the Roman people took on the office of the monarch over all men.” de Monarchia [Pg. 33], Dante

[5] Theogony, Hesiod

[6] The Law of Manu, [Pg. 18]

[7] Homer’s Contest, Nietzsche

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